Monday, August 17, 2009

Would you like ceiling insulation with that?

So a couple of days ago, we had some workmen come to the apartment to fix the ceiling of the bathroom and the frame of the sofa in the living room.

In total, we had three men working in the bathroom, and then our landlord and her mother came by to assess the progress and make sure we weren’t left alone with strange guys in the apartment. The head man spoke a couple words of English, but for the most part, we were stuck miming things and looking confused. During the course of the repairs, the head man managed to ask me for… a bottle? A bucket? I have no idea what he’s saying... And finally I figured out that he wanted a plastic bag. Done. It’s yours.

But then about ten minutes later, he’s wandering around the apartment asking for newspaper. Heather and I both confessed later we were thinking, “Why didn’t you bring your own newspaper?” Well, we didn’t have any newspaper. Heather asked him what he needed the newspaper for so we could find a substitute. He launches into another Englabic explanation. We’re stumped.

He finally manages to mime a bow slash holy gesture in Heather’s direction. Oh! He wants to pray! So Heather grabs a blanket off of one of the couches.

Just imagine the scene now. There are two workmen in varying degrees of dustiness (from the bathroom ceiling) kneeling on our couch blanket in the middle of the dining room, facing our wall and mumbling Arabic chants in the direction of Mecca. The third workman is happily shredding ceiling insulation in the corner. Huh. Who knew I would ever use the words praying to Mecca and ceiling insulation in the same paragraph? Heather also wrote an entertaining account of this situation.

In addition to my first up close and personal look at the call to prayer in action, I also got a lesson in Arabic hospitality. I’m from the United States. When we have people over to fix things in our houses, we are normally polite to them, we help them out if they have questions, and then we stay the heck out of their way until they get the job done. I thought I played my part very well. I was super polite to the workmen, I got them a plastic bag when they needed it, then I curled up on the couch with my book, out of the way but still visible if they needed anything.

I look up from Harry Potter to find Heather scurrying around the house grabbing tea, drinks and cookies for the workmen. Huh. Well. Now I feel rude. And antisocial.

Apparently, it is not only polite to offer people fixing your bathroom ceiling drinks, but it’s EXPECTED. Also, tips and dinner would not go amiss either. Wow. I consider myself a pretty polite person, but Miss Manners, you definitely left out what do in cases involving prayer rugs and ceiling insulation.

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